Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anita O'Day: Indestructibly Good

UPDATE 10/15: O'Day is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

I just rented Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer on iTunes, and am happy to report it's a worthy tribute to a brilliant talent.

Music critics and fellow musicians interviewed in the film place O'Day as the only white singer in a class with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. Interviews with O'Day and clips of with David Frost, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder and Bryant Gumbel reveal what a bright spirit she was. It's full of footage of O'Day's incomparable singing style, even though too much time was sucked away in the film--and her life--by her heroin addiction, which came about after a marijuana bust.

One segment demonstrating her improvisation skills intercuts her singing "Let's Fall in Love" at various stages of her career, each one a unique work of art. One admirer recalls her remarking on the sound of a ceiling fan during a memorable performance where she included the fan's rhythm into the song.

Described not as a mere singer, but rather as musician who used her voice as an instrument, O'Day's rapid-fire delivery could keep up with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Stan Kenton and Gene Krupa. "You can swing, you'd better come with us," Krupa told her when he hired her. (I'm more convinced than ever that O'Day is the inspiration for Sugarpuss O'Shea, the character played by Barbara Stanwick in Ball of Fire (1941), featuring Krupa (the documentary opens with her intoning the same "Drum Boogie" riff). She appears as herself in a cameo in The Gene Krupa Story (1959) starring Sal Mineo. "She's all right, if you like talent," someone says after she sings.

Rather abandoned as child, O'Day entered Depression-era marathon Walkathons, walking for as many as 2,000 hours to earn food and shelter, and maybe a prize. She started performing in dance contests around the age of 13, smoking reefer with her adult dance partner before they performed (and often won). In those days, you could buy a joint at the corner store, but soon it became illegal. O'Day writes in her autobiography High Times, Hard Times, "One day weed had been harmless, booze outlawed; the next, alcohol was in and weed led to 'living death.' They didn't fool me. I kept on using it, but I was just a little more cautious." Read more.

One early clip shows O'Day singing with black trumpeter Roy Eldridge during a time when such an act could bring violent repercussions. "Well come here, Roy, and get groovy," she tells him. With its integration policies, the Krupa band "went for the jugular of red-neck America," one critic said. Krupa was targeted and arrested for marijuana possession in 1943. "That really bugged me," O'Day writes. "I'd been smoking grass since I was a kid without any terrible effects." She adds in a footnote, "I've always felt that exaggerating the destructive effect of marijuana was a big mistake. The fact that people had used it for years without developing severe problems made it easier for them to discount the physical and economic problems created by use of hard drugs." She soon became a case in point.

O'Day was arrested for pot herself in 1947. She did 4 months' time, and afterwards was led to heroin, figuring, "If they were going to call me a junkie, I figured I might as well be one." She teamed up with John Poole, a heroin addict who she heard drumming in a strip club. The two nursed a 16-year addiction, touring the country and recording for the Verve label.

After after almost dying from an overdose in 1969, O'Day beat her addiction and came back to tour Japan and Europe, establish two record companies and write her autobiography. In 1999, she celebrated her 80th birthday with a concert at the Palladium in Hollywood. She made a final London appearance in 2004 before she died in 2006 at the age of 87.

The comparison to Amy Winehouse is tragically apt. Winehouse was busted for pot in Norway, ostensibly the reason she was denied entry into the U.S. for the 2008 Grammy awards (at which she won five Grammys, including Best New Artist). She had a weakness for men on hard drugs, and they lead her back to alcohol and worse. She was again denied entry into the U.S. in 2009, where she was set to perform along with Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen and others at the Coachella festival in Indio, California. She died with 2.5 million Facebook fans at the age of 27.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Write to Women Behind Bars for Marijuana

By Sabrina Fendrick, NORML Women's Alliance

The NORML Women’s Alliance has teamed up with the webzine Freedom is Green to encourage reform advocates to write letters to women serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses.

Several studies suggest a prisoner’s mental health is dependent on their contact with the outside world. For many, mail correspondences are their primary contact with the public.

Many of the women incarcerated for marijuana offenses are isolated and alone. Receiving any outside communication from the public can be the highlight of their week or month. These small gestures let them know that they are not forgotten, and that the NORML Women’s Alliance is here to support and comfort them.

Recently, the NWA and Freedom Is Green collected letters for Patricia Spotted Crow, a first time offender from Oklahoma who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Here is her heartfelt response to this small gesture from the outside world:




California NORML tracks federal marijuana prisoners at http://www.canorml.org/fedcasessum.html One is Mollie Fry, who is serving 5 years for growing 100 plants over a three-year period.

MARION P FRY, 15840-097
SCP Dublin Camp
5675 8th Street - Camp Parks
Dublin, California 94568

Want to write a marijuana prisoner?

Beth Mann of Freedom is Green provides some guidelines for individuals who are interested in writing to women (and men) that are in prison for marijuana-related crimes: “What should you write? Anything. Prisoners benefit from seemingly mundane letters about your daily life to words of inspiration to pieces of creative writing to news or current events. The important part is simply reaching out.”

Please keep in mind that all of the prisoner’s mail is read by authorities.


- Please send text only, no images or attachments

- Put the prisoner’s name in subject line of email

- Send separate emails for each prisoner

- Up to 1,000 words per letter

- By sending a letter through freedomisgreen.com we may contact you and ask that your letter be posted on the site to bring awareness to victims of prohibition. You may decline and we will still forward your letter directly to the prisoner.

- Send your emails to marijuanaprisoners@gmail.com

Questions? chris@freedomisgreen.com


Mad Men, Their Women, and Marijuana



The acclaimed AMC series "Mad Men" is not without its marijuana references. Set in the 1960s, the first season had talk of a competing ad agency where everyone smoked and the creative product was better. Adman Don Draper smokes pot with his Greenwich Village girlfriend Midge, whose friends give him grief about his career. "I feel like Dorothy," he says. "The world just turned to color.

In the following episode he refuses a job with a global ad agency, saying when he leaves his current job he'll do something else with his life. An interview with actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Midge, said it was suggested she read Diane DiPrima's "Memoirs of a Beatnik" in preparation for the role.

Season 3 has mousy-secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson announcing "I want to smoke some marijuana" then, "I'm so high." As she leaves the room, she says, "I'm in a very good place right now." Next she expresses a sudden fascination with her secretary's necklace. She later takes a walk on the wild side with a lesbian friend at a Village pot party.

Season 4 has Don the Dick smoking "grass" with his faux wife/mother figure Annie in California, but soon he's back to New York where his entertainment is drinking and buying $25 hookers who look like Joan and Peggy for himself and a colleague.

UPDATE April 2014: Season 6 opens with Don toking once more in Hawaii, after his wife Megan scores a couple of joints she stashes in her bikini. As we move into the late 60s and the gang starts sporting longer hair and sideburns, pot smoking becomes more common, with Don announcing, "Smells like creativity in here" when his writers are caught smoking in the office. In another episode, Don tokes up with an editor to fuel a late-night work session. Even stuck up account exec Pete gets in on the puffing, and a Dr. Feelgood shows up to wreak havoc at the agency with shots in the butt of the kind Elizabeth Taylor got.

When housewife Betty tries to rescue one of Sally's friends from the Village, she's offered pot, but turns it down. The only time the long-suffering Betty got to do something more interesting than drink wine alone while waiting for Don to come home was in the Season 3 opener, when she was put into Twilight Sleep while giving birth, during which she had visions of her deceased father and mother.

The agency crew takes a business trip to Southern California, where Don joins in a hookah-smoking circle at at swinging party and starts having visions, leading him back to a more authentic life (perhaps). By the end of the season, he's put down alcohol and has a rare moment of honesty about his past life.

The final Season 7 of "Mad Men" premieres on April 13 and is set solidly in the 70s. See the Psychedelic Journey trailer here. So far, Roger is the only character who's done LSD, but that may change...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Toke the Play

Toke, the Play, written by DeeDee Kirkwood, is a fresh take on the topic based on the advertures of a pot- and fun-loving woman named Weedee. It's set to open in Berkeley on August 19, running through September 11. Tokin Women, and men too, should check it out.

Few stores of pot-smoking women have been told in any media, and Toke is an enjoyable romp through one woman's journey that's illuminating and righteous. The artwork is by the fabulous LA artist Barbara Mendes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Women Visionaries Meet in Petaluma


The 5th Annual Women's Visionary Congress was by all measures a milestone.

It opened with a strong presentation from author Dorka Keehn, whose new book, EcoAmazons: Twenty Women Who are Transforming the World chronicles the undertold story of womens' contribution to the environmental movement. Starting with Susan Fenimore Cooper (daughter of the novelist James) who wrote of her time in the woods "where the mind lays aside its daily littleness", Keehn moved to inspiring moderns like Hazel Johnson, Rev. Sally Bingham, Winina Laduke and scientist Janine Benyus who coined the term "biomimicry." "If we're going to have a sustainable future, we need to be emulating them."

Jessica Lukas followed with a charming presentation chronicling her journey from Argentina to Bringham Young University, to studies (elsewhere) in Anthropology and Linguistics, to leading Outward Bound excursions and finally back to the South American jungle, where she has participated in ayahuasca ceremonies and worked with natives on something she calls the Amazon Resistance Project. Lukas was critical of some ecotourism and NGOs, and appreciative of native wisdom, while still feeling the need to point out to them where they are not acting in harmony with the earth. "Soul and soil are absolutely connected in these realms" she said.

Clare Wilkins opened the Saturday program with stories from her clinic in Mexico that uses Ibogaine as therapy to treat addiction. "Addiction involves an unhealthy relationship to drama to thrive," Wilkins observed, "They realize they don't have to live in the shadows after Ibogaine." She stressed the need for aftercare, involving modalities like acupuncture and chiropractic, and the addicts' families as well. "How do you practice the epiphany?" she posed, adding, "Everyone has a portion of health in them. Our task is to find and develop that."

Valerie Corral from the Women's Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Raha-Kudo Design for Dying Project reminded us that, "Nobody does anything extraordinary by thinking in ordinary ways. The divination of the ordinary makes things extraordinary." She played a video of Laura Huxley just before she died, speaking of a dream where she experienced "The sensuality of the spirit and the spirituality of the senses."

Amy Emerson and Linnae Ponte co-presented an update on MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), a nonprofit pharmacology organization that is working on studies of the use of MDMA and cannabis in PTSD; MDMA and autism; Ibogaine and drug dependency; pain; and LSD and end-of-life anxiety. For MDMA studies, they employ male/female co-therapist teams in South Carolina, Switzerland, Israel, and soon in Canada. MAPS is enjoying much national press, in Oprah's magazine, the New York Times, and soon CBS. On December 8-11 in Oakland, CA, MAPS will celebrate its 25th anniversary with Cartographia Psychedelia.

Jane Straight took the group outside for a talk about plant allies, to wrap up the morning.

In the afternoon, Earth and Fire Erowid gave a strong presentation about their work gathering information about the many unknown drugs that are constantly flooding in the market in packages of "Spice" or "Bath Salts," etc. Chemists slightly alter compounds and add them to "herbal" packets before they can be banned, leading to unhealthy consequences. They implored the group to share their experiences on their site, www.erowid.org. As well as collecting stories and information, Erowid has begun a testing program for street drugs, finding widely varying results.

Author and New Dimensions radio host Justine Willis Toms spoke about the importance of forming women's circles and gave guidelines based on her own experience. It should be made of "Friends who support us in our fullness, who are not afraid of our downside." More at: www.millionthcircle.org

Dorothy Fadiman brought the group a retrospective of her lifelong filmmaking career, starting with an LSD-inspired film. Her narration of a film about abortion rights, including her own shocking experience with a back-alley abortion, was a turning point in her journey. She went on to tell compelling stories of courage that called to her with empathy and humor.

Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia, one of the organizers of the Congress, hosted a preview of "Magic Trip", a new film about Ken Kesey and the journey of the Magic Bus, using original footage from the first cross-country trip in 1964. Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood (Enron: The Smartest Guy in the World) are the filmmakers. The film is available on Video on Demand and opens in theaters August 5.

Copperwoman lead a singing circle and brought the group together in song.

Time was left for questions, to enjoy conversation with fellow participants, to walk in the garden and the Labyrinth, and to check out the goat herd at the Institute for Noetic Sciences retreat center in Petaluma where the event was held.

On Sunday, Miss S. discussed her work with psychoactives and bodywork, wherein she carefully has begun to gather input from clients who have experienced the two together with much benefit, physically and emotionally. Practitioners should be trained in CPR and psychedelic journey sitting, she recommended, as well as their treatment modality. Legal issues were also discussed.

Eleanora Molnar posed many questions to the group about the biosustainability of entheogenic practice, advocating for a bioregional approach. Keeper Trout broadened our perspective on the study of San Pedro cactus. Stephanie Schmitz, archivist for the Purdue University Psychoactve Substances Research Collection, gave an overview of the project including new acquisitions, and invited all to visit the archives or their website,

WVC expects to have some Salons in Portland, Oregon and New York City in the coming year. They were inundated with requests for scholarships to attend this year, and some of their grants are now going to older women to "encourage transformation."

A Gaia Festival with some of the speakers will be held in Laytonville, CA next weekend (August 5-7).